REVIEW: “John Wick”

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Let me say I have always liked Keanu Reeves even when his movies didn’t quite hit their mark. He has always come across as a likable guy which has often translated onto the screen. That’s why I’m glad to see him put out a movie like “John Wick”. Let’s face it, Keanu’s career reached its high point during the 1990s and early 2000s. Now at 50 years old he stars in a stylized revenge thriller that tips it hat to several films that came out during his heyday.

Let’s get this out of the way first, “John Wick” is a hyper-violent action movie and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. There isn’t much character development. There isn’t a lot of shoehorned drama. There aren’t hidden deeper meanings. But there are a ton of bullets, blood splatters, and broken limbs not to mention a body count that would rival anything from Stallone or Schwarzenegger. In many ways it’s a throwback flick and I really appreciated what it set out to do.

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Reaves plays the title character John Wick, a retired hitman mourning the recent loss of his wife to an unspecified illness. We don’t get any drawn-out backstory about their relationship or the onset of the illness. Just quick flashes that indicate they had a very healthy and loving marriage. After her funeral he receives a delivery – a puppy his wife had arranged to be delivered upon her death in hopes that it would help John cope with her passing. It doesn’t take long for John to take a liking to the puppy and it appears that it may be helping him deal with his loss.

That changes when he meets three thugs tied to a Russian gang led by Iosef (Alfie Allen). Iosef takes a liking to John’s ’69 Mustang and is angry when John refuses to sell it. Later that night the trio attack John in his home, kill his puppy, and steal his car. This triggers the other side of John Wick – the side directly tied to his past as a lethal hitman. He sets out to find Iosef who we learn is the incompetent son of the Russian mob boss Viggo (played by Michael Nyqvist). Viggo knows John Wick which means he knows what’s coming so he sends his mob army out to kill John before John kills his son. Obviously that is no easy task.

From there directors Chad Stahelski and the uncredited David Leitch stomp the accelerator and rarely take a breather. The action comes furiously and without remorse. And the influence of Hong Kong action cinema is undeniable. Both the early martial arts flicks and the later stylized John Woo shoot-em-ups are represented in some form in “John Wick”. It’s that style and sense of homage that keeps this from being your run-of-the-mill action tripe. The fight choreography is intense and the gunplay is absurdly entertaining. It’s so insanely over-the-top but it never becomes dopey or farcical.

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Recently Keanu Reeves has shown his affection for foreign action movie formulas so he is right at home here. In fact you can even see reflections of his popular “Matrix” series which makes sense. He first met Stahelski and Leitch on the set of “The Matrix”. In “John Wick” he becomes the familiar but convincing blank-faced killing machine, but he isn’t restricted to that thanks to some subtle, timely humor and the feeling of sympathy we have for his character.

“John Wick” may not do anything to reinvent the revenge thriller or action genre, but does it really need to in order to be successful? Not for me. It’s definitely a movie made for a particular audience and if wall-to-wall action and stylized violence isn’t your cup of tea neither is “John Wick”. But as someone who grew up during the time when big action movies were topping the box office, this was a satisfying and entertaining retreat. It is a cool nostalgic trip that also managed to feel surprisingly new. It definitely had more to offer than I ever expected.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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42 thoughts on “REVIEW: “John Wick”

    • Me either man! I really figured this would be a movie that was tossed aside pretty easy. Not so. You gotta check this thing out. It really surprised me. Do you like the old straightforward action flicks of 1980s and early 90s?

  1. I did my own review of this and I loved it. it’s one of the few action movies that got me emotionally invested in it. It was probably because of the dog. I love dogs, and watching Keanu Reeves lay waste to the mafia was strangely cathartic. I love the fact that Reeves actually got to show some acting chops towards the beginning a little. Overall, though, this movie was pretty awesome.

    • It was wasn’t it? I thought Reaves fit the part perfectly. And I can see where dog lovers would want revenge. I’m not a big dog guy but I wanted those mob punks to pay!!!

  2. I would actually like to see Keanu direct another movie. His directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, wasn’t bad at all. He has a keen eye for action and how to stage sequences.

    • Thanks man. To be completely fair I never saw 47 Ronin. It never appealed to me. This one had a very strong and nostalgic throwback feel which really worked. At the same time it also felt surprisingly fresh. Definitely give it a shot.

  3. Great review! Great movie! I’ve always liked Keanu Reeves too even when his movies are sometimes laughably bad. I’m glad he found something that suited him so well.

    • Absolutely Justine! I would love to see him really take off in a new stage of his career. Hopefully his next few film choices will be winners as well.

  4. It’s great to see Keanu back. But also, it’s great to see him back in something that’s worthy of his talents, as limited as they sometimes may be. Good review Keith.

  5. You don’t screw with another man’s ride or his dog. I have a weakness for revenge movies like you would not believe. This was way more satisfying than I expected and I know I will be able to drop in on it at any point should it be playing on my satellite channels. I would not say I’m a fan, but I do appreciate Keanu in a lot of action flicks. 47 Robin was perfectly fine for what it is, this movie was excellent for the genre.

    • I think the dog angle probably hooked more people than they imagined. You’re right, this was a really good flick that fits nicely into its targeted genre. I found myself pretty entranced by the whole thing.

    • It’s a surprise. It definitely targets a specific genre and then stays loyal to it. Those who don’t like loud and frantic action flicks probably won’t care for this one. But I grew up with those movies and I have a soft spot for the genre.

  6. Enjoyed the hell out of this one too! Like you, I’ve always liked Keanu Reeves and the films he’s done, despite some of them being fairly terrible. And yes, I’ve seen Speed more times than I can remember.

    Like you said, John Wick doesn’t reinvent the action film genre, but it just refines it and reminds us that the action film genre is a worth film genre!

    • And doesn’t Keanu fit that role well? It’s like he’s very confident and familiar with the genre. He and the filmmakers know exactly what kind of movie they’re making. Mission accomplished. It was a hoot.

  7. Wahoo!!! Glad to hear you love this one Keith! I’ve always loved Keanu since Speed and he’s just so watchable despite his limited range. I like that this one didn’t try to be anything than just a violent action flick and yeah, no annoying drawn-out backstory but the quick scenes w/ the puppy is enough to convince us he means business when he sets out to avenge it! Nostalgic and entertaining, w/ an awesome soundtrack too, can’t wait for John Wick 2! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Yep, I think it’s a good one Ruth. I really do think the film would fall apart if it tried to expand itself with more backstory and emotional setups. Instead it was very focused and it worked so well!

  8. Astute review, Keith. This movie was bad ass and I totally agree that Reeves makes us care for him through those subtle tactics you mentioned before he becomes that invincible killing machine. The movie, taken on a certain level is very entertaining and fun. It even becomes a bit reverential and indeed stylized within it’s own universe and genre without taking itself too seriously. No easy feat. Thanks for the write up. Good work!

    • It’s a very well-made movie, isn’t it? It does tip its hat to the action genre but it’s not just a one trick pony. More importantly it’s insanely fun. Never expected it to be as good as it was.

  9. Pingback: Movie Review – Knock Knock (2015) |

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